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The concept of evil holds a central, yet paradoxical place in the scholarly literature on war and armed conflict. On one hand, the term signifies persons and actions that stand at the outermost limits of human capability; this connects to our oldest meanings of evil that connote inhuman and nonhuman deeds and forces (maleficent spirits, the devil, “the evil eye”). Thus, evil has historically been used infrequently as a term of analysis in social and political science.

On the other hand, however, evil is invoked often in everyday descriptions and experiences of war, and in political, media, and literary discourses (“the lesser of two evils,” “the axis of evil”). The term’s widespread use in ordinary language and political debate reflects how evil and war are naturally ...

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